What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It
occurs when there are mutations in the DNA of your skin cells, and it
begins in your skin's top layer, the epidermis. The epidermis has
three types of cells:
Squamous - the cells that lie just below the outer surface and function as the
skin's inner lining
Basal - cells that produce new skin cells and live beneath the squamous cells
Melanocytes - the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin also
protects the deeper layers of the skin from the sun's harmful UV rays.
Types of Skin Cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a very common type of skin cancer. It occurs
on areas of your body exposed to the sun, such as your face, ears, and
hands. It may appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly,
crusted surface. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous
cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to sun as often,
such as the legs and feet.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is also very common and usually occurs on areas of
your body exposed to the sun, such as your neck or face. It may appear
as a pearly or waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion.
Melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer, but is the most dangerous.
It's one of the most common cancers in young adults ages 25 to 29.
Melanocytes can grow abnormally and become cancerous when overexposed
to the sun or any ultraviolet (UV) light, such as tanning beds. In men,
melanoma most often shows up on the upper body, between the shoulders
and hips and on the head and neck. In women, it's more likely to develop
on the lower legs.
People with darker skin have a higher concentration of melanin, a skin
pigment that acts a bit like sunscreen, but this does not make them any
less susceptible to the sun’s radiation. Melanoma often appears
under their fingernails or toenails, on the palms of their hands, and
on the soles of their feet.
Melanoma is a serious and sometimes life-threatening cancer. If it is not
caught early, it can grow deeper within the skin and metastasize, or spread,
to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.
Risk Factors for Skin Cancer
- Fair-skinned, light hair/eyes
- Excessive sun exposure
- History of sunburns
- Family or personal history of skin cancer
- Weakened immune system
- Sunny or high-altitude climates
- Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic
Reducing Your Risk
- Limit or avoid exposure to UV radiation
- Wear sunscreen year- round
- Wear protective clothing
- Avoid tanning beds
- Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications
Know Your ABCs
It’s important to inspect all moles and pigmented spots on your body.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends “Check your birthday
suit on your birthday!”©
Check your skin for suspicious changes and make an appointment with your
doctor or dermatologist if you notice anything out of the ordinary. Not
all skin changes are caused by skin cancer, but if it is cancer, early
detection offers a better chance at successfully treating the disease.
Not sure what to look for? Just remember your ABCs:
A is for
If you draw a line through the mole, the two halves will not match.
B is for
The edges are jagged, irregular or blurred.
C is for
The color or pigmentation is not uniform and/or has varying shades of tan,
brown or black; you may sometimes see blue, white or red as well.
D is for
The size of the mole is greater than 1/4 inch (6mm).
This is equivalent to the size of a pencil eraser.
E is for
Over time, the mole changes shape, color, size, etc.
Sunburn Relief … in Your Kitchen?
After a little too much fun in the sun, try these home remedies to take
the sting out of your sizzled skin:
Potatoes: Cut a raw potato in slices and rub a piece on your most painful spots.
The starchy compound will help alleviate the sting.
Fat-free milk: Apply cool, not cold, milk to your skin using a clean cloth or gauze every
15 to 20 minutes. Repeat every two to four hours. The milk creates a protein
film on your skin that eases your discomfort.
Strawberries: Mash a few up and slather on your sunburn; rinse off after a few minutes.
The tannin content helps reduce the sting.
Oatmeal: Suffering from a full-body sizzle? Grind up a cup of the cereal in your
food processor, add it to cool bathwater and settle in for a soak.
If you need to visit a dermatologist,
Mary Washington Dermatology is conveniently located on the Mary Washington Hospital campus. You can
also call Health Link at 540.741.1404 to find a dermatologist near you.